The 7 Innocents

John 7:24
'Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.'



Isaiah 64:6
'But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;'


It was when their problems seemed to wane that they escalated. The Australians all disappeared, and the seminary shut down. They were told to run for their lives. Told if they didn’t, their families would die. Told if they did, their families would still die.
They endeavoured to solve the mystery – one that threatened to destroy them and their families – but soon realised that to end it all, they must first find the Australians. But the closer they came to finding them, the more they began to see they should run and never come back.
The question, of course, is why they didn’t call the police.
The answer is simple.
You can’t avoid being condemned unless you’re innocent.
And these men are not.

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27. Chapter Twenty-Six: The 7 Rejoice

 

 

Gopi was intrigued when his friend said he had not yet completely explained his plot. Impatiently, he urged the man to tell him more.

          ‘What else could there possibly be?’

          The friend took a deep breath, searching for the right words to say. ‘I was thinking over my story, and I realised it had a few holes. Think about it: the first thing the media would ask was why a man would kill his enemy at the expense of him and his entire family.’

          ‘Ah.’ Gopi paused for a long time, lost in thought. ‘That’s a good point.’

          ‘Would you like to know what I came up with?’

          Gopi was surprised. ‘You came up with a solution? You take more initiative than any of my men!’

          His friend laughed. ‘Thank you. Anyway, my solution is a brilliant one. What if the man quoted a flight number to the bribed man, but the bribed man heard the wrong number?’

          Gopi cried aloud for joy. ‘Friend, that is brilliant!’ He praised the man. ‘But can you make it legitimate?’

          ‘Of course I can! You have told me what flight I am working with, and I have made it all fit together. I have set it up very well actually, so that the flight that was ‘really’ requested has a Nepali diplomat on board.’

          Gopi was perfectly thrilled. ‘It is brilliant!’ He cried repeatedly. ‘You have gone above and beyond your call of duty, friend.’

          His friend smiled on the other end, proud as anything. ‘Yes.’ He praised himself. ‘I do think I have done a rather good job. So do I get a raise?’

          Gopi only laughed. ‘Of course. You have done all that you possibly can and more.’

 

They waited all day for Arjun to arrive, but he did not until just after dinner.

                His mother was worried. 'Usually you are back for dinner. Why not this time?'

                'I was invited to have dinner, and stayed. Actually, I ran into a very old friend.'

                'So who are you visiting?' Suneep asked, waiting for the answer. He had managed to have a haircut, and looked quite serious when wearing jeans that actually fit him.

                'Relatives of Astha's. ' Arjun replied. 'In a nearby village. I am very good friends with everyone in the village – they are like family to me. Astha often keeps me updated on how they are.'

                'That explains the messages from Astha.' Brayna muttered.

                Suneep was not so convinced. 'Why did you not just say so, bhai?'

                Arjun looked a little embarrassed. 'I was afraid everyone would think I was visiting because of Astha. I am not. In fact, she newly has a boyfriend.'

                'Really?' His mother cried excitedly. 'Who?'

                'Oh, you don't know him. He is from the village.'

                Everyone seemed relieved to finally find out where Arjun had been disappearing to. The only ones that did not entirely believe him were Chandan and Suneep. Arjun was embarrassed and uncomfortable and left the room as quickly as possible. The others began to settle down, and a few even began playing cards.

                'Where is Arjun?' Suneep asked eventually.

                Chandan shrugged and went to find him. After searching all relevant rooms in the house, Chandan checked the balcony. When he still didn't find his friends he checked the front door. There he found Arjun sitting on the front step.

                'Hello, bhai!' Chandan greeted him, sitting down next to him and shutting the door all at once. 'Are you all right?' For once Arjun did not nod. 'You are still keeping secrets.'

                Arjun sighed. 'So are you, dai.'

                Chandan nodded, and curled up. 'I hate the dark, bhai. Do you know why?' Arjun shook his head. 'Okay, I will tell you. Remember how everyone thought I was so brave riding a scooter in India, being Nepali?'               Arjun nodded curiously. 'I was not brave. I was braver helping you stand up for Astha.'

                Arjun was confused. 'Why?'

                Chandan looked away, and Arjun thought he wasn't going to explain. Then he did. 'I am not Nepali citizen. I am an Indian. I had never even been in Nepal until we all came here together.'

                Arjun was stunned. 'Then... why did you...?'

                'I can't speak Hindi very well; I don't pass as an Indian.'

                'Indians speak Nepali!'

                'I don't look Indian!'

                'But you are!'

                'Not by heritage. Listen, I will explain. It is true that my parents moved to India for work. But their love story is very significant. Neither sides of the family wanted them to marry, but they did anyway. They were practically forced to India. Of course, my father was not rich, so we lived in a rough area. I mean, it was safe – just not at night.'

                'That is why you hate the dark.' Arjun reasoned.

                Chandan did not nod. 'I was ten. My little brother was eight; my other was five, the other three, and the last two. He was the naughty one. He escaped one night, and we were all very worried. Search parties were organised, and I was sent out with an eighteen year old boy. I was still scared of the dark, and he teased me by hiding somewhere. When I could no longer see him I panicked, and ran around.' Chandan's eyes reddened and he hugged his legs. 'A hand came out of nowhere and covered my mouth. Another scooped me up easily. It was a man, a complete stranger. He held me so tightly I could hardly breathe! The boy finally jumped out, and was very worried. But we were too near the main road. The man simply ran off with me.

                'He took me to the train station, where we boarded a train. He gave me sleeping pills, and when I woke up I was in a filthy room on a bed crawling in lice. This was a 'home' a 'safe place'. All they really did was use the children. We made money for them. We were not educated, just taught to steal. Occasionally they would feed us, which we saw as an extreme kindness, but most times they would beat us. It is strange, when they were happy with us our hearts soared, but when they were not we were heart broken and cried for hours. When I was sixteen two friends and I stole some wallets, just like normal, and found three tickets – one in each – to Delhi. We had never thought about leaving before, but now that it was possible we knew we had to. We didn't even go back to gather our things – there was nothing to gather.

                'We were lost when we arrived in Delhi. Each of us survived on stealing and was able to go back to our hometown. First Kharan could not find his family – no-one knew where they had gone – and then Ashima could not find hers.' A tear rolled down Chandan's cheek. 'I never saw my family again. I don't even know if Sammy was found.' Arjun sat frozen in shock and sorrow. 'So now,' Chandan continued, 'you know my secret. I suppose I make a lot more sense no. The boy who never liked holidays. It is because I had to return to the streets, though my friends were in the same position. It was especially hard because they were not, until two years ago, Christians. I became a Christian the year I went to BSI, after accidentally walking into a church service one Sunday. I have grown very much.'

                Arjun nodded. 'Yes, dai. You are very strong. Thank you for telling me, dai.'

                Chandan sniffed. 'It's all right, bhai. But let me tell you, it is such a relief to have that off my shoulders. But of course, we don't have to visit my family. For all I know they are dead.'

                Chandan rose and left, leaving Arjun in stunned in silence.

 

Suneep awoke early the next morning and knew what he had to do. He did not pay much attention to what he put on, and came out with slightly spiked hair at the front, sunnies on his head and Converses on his feet. His jeans fit him properly, and he wore a belt for good measure. The belt was not visible, however, as he had not tucked in his blue T-shirt with various words printed on it. He wore a long-sleeve blue shirt of his T-shirt, and all the buttons were undone. He was surprised when – stepping into the kitchen – Arjun's mother spoke to him.

                'You look very smart today, Suneep.'

                'Oh. Thank you.'

                'You are welcome. Are you going out?'

                Suneep nodded. Then, distractedly, he asked, 'I have two things on my mind that I cannot shake. Ma'am...'

                'You may call me Karuna.' The woman further surprised him.

                'Oh, thank you. Karuna, how much did Arjun pay you? I know he is still paying.'

                The woman hesitated. 'I have lost count.'

                'Well if you calculate it I will pay half. It is only fair.'

                Now Karuna was surprised. Staring at Suneep, she cried, 'Suneep? Are you all right?'

                Suneep nodded seriously. 'Yes, ma'am, I am fine thank you.'

                'Are you sure?'

                'Yes. See? I have my Converses on.'

                Suneep smiled cheekily, and the woman relaxed. 'That is better. You worried me there for a minute, Suneep. I thought you were trying to change too much.'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. 'But I should change.'

                Karuna shook her head. 'Not too much, Suneep. Do not change too much.'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows, smiled cheekily, and kissed the woman on the cheek. 'I think I will never change at all.'

                Then, before the woman could object, he stole some poori and ran out of the house laughing at her shock.

 

Suneep stared at the large gates and sighed. He had to do this. He had done badly sending Arjun, Chandan, and Josha. Slowly, he walked up to the grand mansion. When the security guards saw him coming they were stunned, and opened the gates immediately.

                'Suneep has come!' One ran off screaming, a little unprofessionally.

                Suneep had not been home for a year now, and had had next to contact with his family. He was somehow surprised when they came running out. He was frustrated too.

                'Mama!' He cried, pushing the woman away. 'Why are you happy to see me? I am horrible!'

                His father did not contradict him, but smiled. 'You are our son, Suneep.'

                'Our son.' His wife finished, throwing her arms around him. Suneep froze, as the words went right into his soul. His father hugged him, and Suneep felt something inside him change. He finally realised the truth of the matter: He was selfish! So selfish!

                When he was angry he hurt others. When he was hurt he hurt others. When he was happy, others were happy – perhaps simply because they were not being hurt. All his life he had lived thinking he was wrapped around his parents fingers – trying to please them, feeling rejected when he didn't. Now he realised they were wrapped around his. Everything suddenly became clear. They were frustrated when he did poorly because the wanted the best for him. His sister was often flat because he got all the attention. His parents showered him with gifts he didn't deserve because they loved him, and hoped he would finally return their love.

                Suneep thought he had loved his parents. He thought he had disappointed them. He realised all their hopes and dreams rode with him, soared with his joys and plummeted with his lows. He had caused his parents grief and sorrow! That was not love!

                'I love you.' He suddenly muttered, stunning both his parents. 'I love you both so much.'

Neither parent was sure what to do, so Suneep threw his arms around his mother and tried not to cry. He was not entirely successful, but managed not to saturate his father's shoulder.

                His parents led him inside the house, and he did his best to please them. He had always though he tried his best – now he realised he had tried to do as little as possible. They asked if he could still play piano, so he demonstrated for them. He bothered to ask them how they felt, and how they were doing. He asked about various people, and forced himself to sit still for more than five minutes. He had always though he only had to do that for church, or long trips. Now he realised it was required as much in relationships with people as in relationships with God.

                His sister arrived, and he fussed over her. She was five months pregnant – Suneep hadn't even k now. He admired her very much, and had always been afraid to ruin her opinion of him. He realised only now that it was better for everyone if he did not push her away. He learned more about his sister and her husband in ten minutes than he had ever learned about them in his life, and felt truly sorry he hadn't spent time with his sister while he was younger.

Suneep was surprised when – an hour later – in walked all his old friends. The people he had once terrorized the town with. One of his old buddies gave him a friendly punch in the stomach, and Suneep tried hard not to scream.

                Suneep had never told his parents for fear of disappointing them, but he had been sorely mistreated at boarding school. The students had always been kind to him, but the teachers could not abide him. He knew why now. He never tried hard and hated direction. He caused trouble, and had gotten what he deserved to a certain degree. There was one teacher in particular that had beaten him often – always private. He would kick Suneep in the stomach over and over; until the boy was so curled up the teacher couldn't even reach his stomach anymore. Suneep had always somehow enjoyed the pain. He liked feeling disciplined, as if his beating somehow paid for all his transgressions and wiped his slate clean. So he never told anyone about the teacher.

                After being kicked he would behave for a week or two. But as soon as the pain wore off he would go straight back to his old ways. Suneep knew he had been permanently injured, but he did not notice most of the time – only if he were hit in the stomach. For example, when the six had been trying to fix the car in the storm and were screaming at him to help he had felt a little bad for not doing so. But he had been in so much pain he felt he could scream. Yet he had sort of enjoyed the pain inflicted on him by Josha. He sighed. Did he really believe that being beaten somehow made him innocent of all the wrongs he had ever committed? Well, that was a ridiculous notion.
                Surely, he thought, there was a time he had not enjoyed the pain. But the only time he could remember such a situation was when he was kicked when trying to defend Alyssa. He realised with horror that was probably the only time he had ever thought of anyone but himself.

                As Suneep chatted to his old friends, it struck him – and indeed, everyone – that he could no longer relate to them. He wasn't acting all that different, so he didn't see why things were going so badly. Then one of his friends summed it up.

                'Australia has changed you – you seem... sort of mature.' He said. 'I don't think I like it.'

                Suneep laughed. 'Me? Mature? Do not be ridiculous!'

                The friends only frowned, and left soon after.

                Suneep stayed for lunch, but had to leave at about one. 'I did not give the others any warning as to when I would be back. I should go. It is a long journey.'

                His father smiled at him, a glint of pride in his eyes. 'Good man. I pray you will have a safe journey.'

                Suneep smiled, thanked his family, and left the house.

                He had a lot of time to think on the train, and a lot of time to pray too. For the first time in a long time he asked God to help him change. And this time, the only one who brought him to that point was God Himself.

 

Suneep was exhausted when he reached Arjun's house, and went straight to bed. He was dismayed when he awoke early again the next morning. The he realised Josha and Chandan were staring at him.

                'What?' He asked.

                Chandan smiled. 'Do you believe Arjun?'

                Suneep shook his head tiredly. 'No. But what else can he mean?'

                'Whatever it is, it must be dangerous.'

                'Maybe Arjun is the enemy.' Josha joked.

                'He could be protecting someone.' Suneep agreed with Chandan's idea. 

                'But who? His family?'

                'We are in danger.' Josha put in. 'And he has not told us. So it must be someone who is in danger.'

                A strange idea popped into Suneep, Chandan, and Josha's minds at the exact same time.

                'No!' Chandan cried. 'That is not possible!'

                'Look, maybe the idea is a little far-fetched.' Suneep admitted. 'But I guarantee you almost 100% this has something to do with her. And what did he say last night?'

                'I ran into an old friends.' Josha helped.

                Chandan gasped. 'It has to be true!'

                'No, I think we have jumped too far.' Suneep suddenly back-pedaled. 'This is ridiculous.'

                'You're right.' Josha agreed. 'Perhaps these people have had contact with her all along, and just yesterday he was able to see her.'

                Suneep nodded. 'I think that is more accurate. I think they have hidden Alyssa and occasionally bring her down. That is why he visits so often – to check on her.'

                'Do you think he sees her often?' Chandan asked.

                'No. I would say yesterday was the first time so far.'

                'At all?'

                'No! About the third time at least. Remember what Mehmet said he said?'

                Chandan nodded.

                There was the rev of an engine, and the three sat up at once.

                'Arjun is leaving again!' Chandan cried, surprised.

                Suneep smiled. 'Then we will wait for him to return.'

 

Arjun returned half-an-hour later. 'Guess who I found!' He cried, his face alight.

                He was loud, which was unusual, so everyone was instantly excited. They fell into shock when a small girl stepped in, though Arjun's family was confused (with the exception of Brayna, who worked it out instantly). Suneep was the first to respond.

                'Ally!' He screamed, instantly throwing his arms around the girl. He held her tightly, afraid to let her go, and felt relieved when she did the same.

                'Suneep!' Alyssa cried, equally thrilled. 'It's so good to see you all again!'

                The others all hugged her a little timidly, though Bikram was over the top, and Arjun quickly explained things to his family.

                'How long have you known?' Suneep asked, eager to see if he was right.

                'A while.' Arjun admitted. 'But I felt like today might be safe.'

                Suneep wondered why. Was it just because they had put pressure on Arjun? Was he hiding something much bigger?

                'Are you married?' Was the first thing Bikram asked.

                Alyssa laughed. 'What makes you ask that?'

                'Liberty said she heard...'

                Bikram never managed to finish his sentence. 'Liberty!' The girl cried. 'How is she?'

                The next hours were passed caching up, or making introductions, and Suneep spent the whole time with his arms around Alyssa. He sat curled up next to her on the couch, and she did not seem bothered by this.

                Suneep knew Arjun was glaring at him, but he didn't care. He knew like Arjun that he was not exactly being prim and proper, but he didn't care. His dear friend was back – and he had missed her.

 

 

 

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